- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A stylish female warrior helps souls escape doomsday in the third-person adventure Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (Square Enix, reviewed for the Xbox 360, Rated: Teen, $59.99).

Taking place 500 hundred years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII-2, we find our heroine Lightning awakening after her extended hibernation on the planet of Nova Chrysalia, near at its end, and consumed by the evil force of Chaos.

After cutting a deal with the god Bhunivelze to resurrect her sister Serah, she has 13 days to guide souls to a new world to be created by the deity. Yes, a sort of Book of Revelations mash-up here but loaded with exhausting combat, a soap-operatic plot, plenty of chatting and exploring and some massive swordplay.

Her journey’s will teleport her from a sky headquarters named the Arc to such active areas as the divine city of light, Luxerion; the lifeless desert with undead horrors called the Dead Dunes; the lush and dangerous wilderness of Wildlands; and a Las Vegas for end-of-world partiers called Yusnaan.

In each, she must accept missions and side quests, talk to the area natives and fight for her life against a variety of humans and creatures while claiming those precious souls.

For example, early on she is on a fact-gathering mission to find out who killed a group of girls that look like her. Lightning’s investigation eventually leads to confrontations with a group of religious zealots called the Children of Etro.

Or, while in the Wildlands, she must find an illusive white chocobo (a large chicken-like creature) nicknamed the Angel of Valhalla. Once she gets clues from a local doctor of its location, she must fight a huge monster to rescue it. If the animal appreciates her efforts, she can actually ride it around the location.

Lightning’s most-precious objective, saving those souls, is very important for the player as he quickly realizes he has a big problem.

The world ends in 13 days, but I’m only seeing that I have seven days of game time. Well, that’s a sneaky time limit. The opportunistic player who can free complete missions and side quests will earn Eradia, a light force that accumulates and that translates into extra time to play the game and save more humans.

I really hated that aspect of the game. There is always too much to do and see and not enough hours. In fact, in three hours of real time, I have almost burned through three days due to my meandering and incompetence. I was not getting much Eradia to help.

Combat can be equally frustrating but rewarding for successes. It not only relies on unleashing sequences of magical and physical attacks (tied to a controller’s buttons) at the right time but entering battle with the proper sets of Schemata.

Stop scratching your head. The term refers to building a custom set of powers based on stuff acquired. A player chooses garb, a weapon, shield, accessories and abilities to design a load out to use on enemies.

The garb is always quite stylish and occasionally risqué (reference Lightning dressed in mini-skirts, flowing dresses highlighting her cleavage and practically only her skivvies), but each Schemata package can be accessed on the fly to mix together a potent selection of costuming that triggers combinations of attacks.

Luckily, each location also offers plenty of shops to buy stuff based on the game’s currency Gil, so a player can keep building a variety of Schemata.

Now engaging a creature (running away is acceptable) is often a painful struggle of will. It can take an extended amount of effort and time to defeat one. I was awed by the impressive detail of monsters such as the Kaiser Behemoth (a quadrupedal beast that when wounded becomes bipedal and pulls out a sword) but really frustrated when trying to beat it.

Story Continues →